SEPTEMBER 21 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent black-and-white zombie film and cult film directed by George A. Romero. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and was completed on a USD$114,000 budget. After decades of cinematic re-releases, it grossed $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally. Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticized during its release because of its explicit content. However, it eventually received critical acclaim and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
The plot of the film follows Ben (Duane Jones), Barbra (Judith O'Dea), and five others, who are trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania and attempt to survive the night while the house is being attacked by mysteriously reanimated ghouls, otherwise known as zombies. Night of the Living Dead is the origin of six other Living Dead films directed by George A. Romero and became the inspiration for two remakes of the film, a film of the same name directed by Tom Savini, and Night of the Living Dead 3D, which was directed by Jeff Broadstreet and contained a much different storyline.
The story begins as siblings Barbra (Judith O'Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) drive to a rural Pennsylvania cemetery to visit their father's grave. Barbra is afraid of cemeteries; Johnny teasingly frightens her by repeating the words, "They're coming to get you, Barbra!" A pale skinned man (Bill Hinzman) is walking with a limp around the cemetery, and Johnny remarks that he is "one of them." Annoyed by Johnny's childish behavior, Barbra goes to the man to apologize, but he grabs her. Coming to rescue his sister, Johnny wrestles with the man but is killed when he falls headfirst on a tombstone. Barbra flees, with the man in pursuit.
Crashing her and Johnny's car into a tree, she flees to an empty farmhouse where she discovers the half-eaten corpse of the apparent homeowner. Frantically running out of the house, she notices several more ghoulish figures approaching the vicinity. Suddenly, a man named Ben (Duane Jones) arrives in a pickup truck, drags Barbra back inside the house, and barricades the doors and windows. Barbra frantically insists that they must go and rescue Johnny, before collapsing in apparent shock.
Meanwhile, hiding in the cellar are an angry married couple, Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman), their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), and teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). Ben activates a radio while Barbra awakens, believing Tom and Harry to be more of the ghouls when they emerge from the basement. Arguing with each other, Harry wants everyone to hide in the cellar but Ben deems it a "deathtrap" and remains upstairs. Tom agrees with Ben and asks for Judy to come upstairs.
Harry returns to the cellar to Helen and Karen, who has fallen ill after being bitten on the arm by a ghoul. Radio reports explain that an epidemic of mass murder is sweeping across the eastern seaboard. When Ben finds a television, the emergency broadcaster reports that the recently deceased have become reanimated and are consuming the flesh of living people. Experts, scientists, and the United States military do not know the cause, though one scientist believes the cause to be radioactive contamination from a space probe that exploded in the Earth's atmosphere.
After news reports provide information about local fortifications where people can take refuge, Ben devises a plan to get to the nearest sanctuary, which would provide medical care for Karen, who is barely conscious. Ben suggests they depart in the truck in which he arrived, which is low on fuel. Ben and Tom then drive the short distance to a gas pump while Harry hurls Molotov cocktails from an upper window to keep the ghouls at bay. Fearing for Tom's safety, Judy follows him. They arrive at the pump but Tom accidentally spills fuel, setting the truck ablaze. Tom and Judy attempt to get the truck away from the pump to avoid further damage but it explodes, killing them both.
Ben despondently returns to the house to find Harry retreating to the cellar door, leaving Ben outside to contend with the ghouls. Angered by Harry's heartlessness, Ben kicks the door down and attacks him. Meanwhile, the ghouls approach the truck to feed on Tom and Judy's carcasses. Back in the house, a final report on the television reveals that a gunshot or heavy blow to the head will stop any ghoul and that posses of armed men are patrolling the countryside to restore order.
After the ghouls attempt to break into the house, Harry, in another heartless act, grabs Ben's rifle and threatens to shoot him. Ben wrestles the gun from Harry and shoots him. The ghouls begin to tug Helen and Barbra through the windows. Dying of his wounds, Harry stumbles into the cellar to find that his daughter Karen has died from the infected bite on her arm. Helen manages to free herself from the clutches of the ghouls and goes to the cellar to find a reanimated Karen consuming Harry's flesh. Karen repeatedly and fatally stabs Helen with a cement trowel.
Meanwhile, Barbra spots a reanimated Johnny among the mob of ghouls; distracted by her brother's presence, she is carried away, never to be seen again. Karen tries to attack Ben, but he pushes her away and seals himself in the cellar—ironically, the very course of action he originally opposed. Ben shoots the reanimated Harry and Helen as they open their eyes.
The next morning, Ben, the lone survivor, awakens as a posse arrives. He hears the posse and proceeds to the window, when a member of the posse, mistaking him for a ghoul, fatally shoots him in the head. Ben's body is then placed onto a burning pyre along with other dead bodies.
Development and background
While attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Romero embarked upon his career in the film industry. In the 1960s, he directed and produced television commercials and industrial films for The Latent Image, a company he co-founded with friends John Russo and Russell Streiner. During this period, the trio grew bored making commercials and wanted to film a horror movie. According to Romero, they wanted to capitalize on the film industry's "thirst for the bizarre". He and Streiner contacted Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman, president and vice president respectively of a Pittsburgh-based industrial film firm called Hardman Associates, Inc., and pitched their idea for a then-untitled horror film. Convinced by Romero, a production company called Image Ten was formed which included Romero, Russo, Streiner, Hardman and Eastman. The initial budget was $6,000 with the ten members of the production company investing $600 each for a share of the profits. When it was found that another $6,000 was required another ten investors were found but this was also soon found to be inadequate. Image Ten eventually raised approximately $114,000 for the budget.
Evans City Cemetery in 2007.
The small budget dictated much of the production process. According to Hardman, "We knew that we could not raise enough money to shoot a film on a par with the classic horror films with which we had all grown up. The best that we could do was to place our cast in a remote spot and then bring the horror to be visited on them in that spot". Scenes were filmed near Evans City, Pennsylvania, 30 miles (48 km) north of Pittsburgh in rural Butler County; the opening sequence was shot at the Evans City Cemetery on Franklin Road, south of the borough. The interior upstairs scenes were filmed in a downtown Evans City home that later became the offices of a prominent local physician and family doctor (Allsop). This home is still standing on South Washington St. (locally called Mars-Evans City Road), between the intersecting streets of South Jackson and Van Buren.
The outdoor, indoor (downstairs) and basement scenes were filmed at a location northeast of Evans City, near a park. The basement door (external view) shown in the film was cut into a wall by the production team and led nowhere. As this house was scheduled for demolition, damage during filming was permitted. The site is now a turf farm.
Props and special effects were fairly simple and limited by the budget. The blood, for example, was Bosco Chocolate Syrup drizzled over cast members' bodies. Consumed flesh was roasted ham and entrails donated by one of the actors who also owned a chain of butcher shops. Costumes consisted of second-hand clothing from cast members and Goodwill. Zombie makeup varied during the film. Initially makeup was limited to "Raccoon" faces, white skin with blackened eyes, but as filming progressed mortician's wax was used to simulate wounds and decay to make the zombies more frightening. As filming was not linear, the "Raccoon" faces appear sporadically. Eastman supervised the special effects, wardrobe and makeup. Filming took place between June and December 1967 under the working title Night of Anubis and later Night of the Flesh Eaters. The small budget led Romero to shoot on 35 mm black-and-white film. The completed film ultimately benefited from the decision, as film historian Joseph Maddrey describes the black-and-white filming as "guerrilla-style", resembling "the unflinching authority of a wartime newsreel". Maddrey adds, it "seem[s] as much like a documentary on the loss of social stability as an exploitation film".
Members of Image Ten were involved in filming and post-production, participating in loading camera magazines, gaffing, constructing props, recording sounds and editing. Production stills were shot and printed by Karl Hardman, who stated in an interview that a "number of cast members formed a production line in the darkroom for developing, washing and drying of the prints as I made the exposures. As I recall, I shot over 1,250 pictures during the production". Upon completion of post-production, Image Ten found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to show the film with the gruesome scenes intact. Columbia and American International Pictures declined after requests to soften it and re-shoot the final scene were rejected by producers. Romero admitted that "none of us wanted to do that. We couldn't imagine a happy ending. . . . Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns". The Manhattan-based Walter Reade Organization agreed to show the film uncensored, but changed the title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead because a film had already been produced under a similar title to the former. While changing the title, the copyright notice was accidentally deleted from the early releases of the film.
Co-written as a horror comedy by John Russo and George A. Romero under the title Monster Flick, an early screenplay draft concerned the exploits of teenage aliens who visit Earth and befriend human teenagers. A second version of the script featured a young man who runs away from home and discovers rotting human corpses that aliens use for food scattered across a meadow. The final draft, written mainly by Romero during three days in 1967, focused on reanimated human corpses — Romero refers to them as ghouls — that feast on the flesh of the living. In a 1997 interview with the BBC's Forbidden Weekend, Romero explained that the script developed into a three-part short story. Part one became Night of the Living Dead. Sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were adapted from the two remaining parts.
Romero drew inspiration from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), a horror/science fiction novel about a plague that ravages a futuristic Los Angeles. The infected in I Am Legend become vampire-like creatures and prey on the uninfected. Discussing the creation of Night of the Living Dead, Romero remarked, "I had written a short story, which I basically had ripped off from a Richard Matheson novel called I Am Legend." Romero further explained:
“ I thought I Am Legend was about revolution. I said if you're going to do something about revolution, you should start at the beginning. I mean, Richard starts his book with one man left; everybody in the world has become a vampire. I said we got to start at the beginning and tweak it up a little bit. I couldn't use vampires because he did, so I wanted something that would be an earth-shaking change. Something that was forever, something that was really at the heart of it. I said, so what if the dead stop staying dead? ... And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this. That's really all [the zombies] ever represented to me. In Richard's book, in the original I Am Legend, that's what I thought that book was about. There's this global change and there's one guy holding out saying, wait a minute, I'm still a human. He's wrong. Go ahead. Join them. You'll live forever! In a certain sense he's wrong but on the other hand, you've got to respect him for taking that position.”
Official film adaptations of Matheson's novel appeared in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, in 1971 as The Omega Man, and the 2007 release I Am Legend. Matheson was not impressed by Romero's interpretation, feeling that "It was ... kind of cornball", though he later said, "George Romero's a nice guy, though. I don't harbor any animosity toward him". Regarding Romero's use of I Am Legend as inspiration, critic Danél Griffin remarked, "Romero freely admits that his film was a direct rip-off of Matheson's novel; I would be a little less harsh in my description and say that Romero merely expanded the author's ideas with deviations so completely original that [Night of the Living Dead] is expelled from being labeled a true 'rip-off'."
Russo and Romero revised the screenplay while filming. Karl Hardman attributed the edits to lead actor Duane Jones:
“ The script had been written with the character Ben as a rather simple truck driver. His dialogue was that of a lower class / uneducated person. Duane Jones was a very well educated man [and he] simply refused to do the role as it was written. As I recall, I believe that Duane himself upgraded his own dialogue to reflect how he felt the character should present himself.”
Eastman modified cellar scenes featuring dialogue between Helen and Harry Cooper. According to lead actress Judith O'Dea, much of the dialogue was improvised. She told an interviewer, "I don't know if there was an actual working script! We would go over what basically had to be done, then just did it the way we each felt it should be done". One example offered by O'Dea concerns a scene where Barbra tells Ben about Johnny's death:
“ The sequence where Ben is breaking up the table to block the entrance and I'm on the couch and start telling him the story of what happened [to Johnny] it's all ad-libbed. This is what we want to get across [...] tell the story about me and Johnny in the car and me being attacked. That was it [...] all improv. We filmed it once. There was a concern we didn't get the sound right, but fortunately they were able to use it.
The lead role of Ben was played by unknown stage actor Duane Jones. His performance depicted Ben as a "comparatively calm and resourceful Negro", according to a contemporary (1969) movie reviewer. Casting Jones as the hero was, in 1968, potentially controversial. At that time, it was not typical for an African American man to be the hero of a film when the rest of the cast was composed entirely of white actors and actresses. Social commentators saw that casting as significant; on the other hand, Romero said that Jones "simply gave the best audition". After Night of the Living Dead, he co-starred in Ganja and Hess (1973), Vampires (1986), Negatives (1988) and To Die For (1989) before his death in 1988. Despite his other film roles, Jones worried that people only recognized him as Ben.
Judith O'Dea, a 23-year-old commercial and stage actress, played Barbra. She had once worked for Hardman and Eastman in Pittsburgh, so they called her to audition. O'Dea was in Hollywood seeking to enter the movie business. She remarked in an interview that starring in the film was a positive experience for her, although she admitted that horror movies terrified her, particularly Vincent Price's House of Wax (1953). Besides acting, O'Dea performed her own stunts, which she jokingly says amounted to "lots of running". Assessing Night of the Living Dead, she states "I honestly had no idea it would have such a lasting impact on our culture". She was just as surprised by the renown the film brought her: "People treat you differently. [I'm] ho-hum Judy O'Dea until they realize [I'm] Barbra from Night of the Living Dead. All of a sudden [I'm] not so ho-hum anymore!" Following Night of the Living Dead, O'Dea appeared in the television film The Pirate in 1978 and feature films Claustrophobia, October Moon, and The Ocean.
The supporting cast had no experience in the film industry prior to Night of the Living Dead. The role of Tom remained Keith Wayne's only film role (he committed suicide in 1995). Judith Ridley later co-starred in Romero's There's Always Vanilla (1971). The cemetery zombie who kills Johnny in the first scene was played by S. William Hinzman (credited as Bill Hinzman), in a role that launched his horror film career. Hinzman was later involved in the films Season of the Witch (1973), Flesheater (1988), Legion of the Night (1995), Santa Claws (1996), and Evil Ambitions (1996).
Cast members Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman and Russell Streiner performed prominent acting roles. Hardman and Eastman co-starred as Harry and Helen Cooper (Eastman also played the female zombie who plucks an insect off a tree and eats it) while Streiner played Johnny, Barbra's brother. Hardman's 11-year-old daughter, Kyra Schon, played Karen Cooper. Image Ten's production manager, George Kosana, played Sheriff McClelland. Romero's friends and acquaintances were recruited as zombie extras. Romero stated, "We had a film company doing commercials and industrial films so there were a lot of people from the advertising game who all wanted to come out and be zombies, and a lot of them did". He adds amusingly, "Some people from around Evans City who just thought it was a goof came out to get caked in makeup and lumber around".
Night of the Living Dead was the first feature-length film directed by George A. Romero. His initial work involved filming shorts for Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED's children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Romero's decision to direct Night of the Living Dead essentially launched his career as a horror director. He took the helm of the sequels as well as Season of the Witch, The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Creepshow (1982) and The Dark Half (1993). Critics saw the influence of the horror and science-fiction films of the 1950s in Romero's directorial style. Stephen Paul Miller, for instance, witnessed "a revival of fifties schlock shock... and the army general's television discussion of military operations in the film echoes the often inevitable calling-in of the army in fifties horror films". Miller admits, however, that "Night of the Living Dead takes greater relish in mocking these military operations through the general's pompous demeanor" and the government's inability to source the zombie epidemic or protect the citizenry. Romero describes the mood he wished to establish: "The film opens with a situation that has already disintegrated to a point of little hope, and it moves progressively toward absolute despair and ultimate tragedy". According to film historian Carl Royer, Romero "employs chiaroscuro (film noir style) lighting to emphasize humanity's nightmare alienation from itself".
While some critics dismissed Romero's film because of the graphic scenes, writer R. H. W. Dillard claimed that the "open-eyed detailing" of taboo heightened the film's success. He asks, "What girl has not, at one time or another, wished to kill her mother? And Karen, in the film, offers a particularly vivid opportunity to commit the forbidden deed vicariously." Romero featured social taboos as key themes, particularly cannibalism. Although zombie cannibals were inspired by Matheson's I Am Legend, film historian Robin Wood sees the flesh-eating scenes of Night of the Living Dead as a late-1960s critique of American capitalism. Wood asserts that the zombies represent capitalists, and "cannibalism represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism." He argues that the zombies' victims symbolized the repression of "the Other" in bourgeoisie American society, namely civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals and counterculturalists in general.
Music and sound effects
The music score of Night of the Living Dead was not composed for the film; Karl Hardman told an interviewer that the music came from the extensive film music library of WRS Studio. Much of what was used in the film was purchased from the library of Capitol Records, and an album of the soundtrack was released at one point. Stock music selections included works by WRS sound tech Richard Lococo, Philip Green, Geordie Hormel, Ib Glindemann, William Loose, John Seely, Jack Meakin and Spencer Moore.
Some of the music in the film had previously been used on the soundtrack for the science-fiction B-movie Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). The eerie musical piece during the tense scene in the film where Ben finds the rifle in the closet inside the farmhouse as the radio reports of mayhem play in the background can be heard in longer and more complete form during the opening credits and the beginning of The Devil's Messenger (1961) starring Lon Chaney Jr. Another piece, accompanying Barbra's flight from the cemetery zombie, was taken from the score for The Hideous Sun Demon (1959). According to WRS, "We chose a selection of music for each of the various scenes and then George made the final selections. We then took those selections and augmented them electronically". Sound tech R.Lococo's choices worked well, as Film historian Sumiko Higashi believes that the music "signifies the nature of events that await".
Sound effects were created by WRS Studio in Pittsburgh. "Sound engineer Richard Lococo recorded all of the live sound effects used in the film". Lococo recalled, "Of all the sound effects that we created, the one that still gives me goose bumps when I hear it, is Marilyn's screaming as [Helen Cooper] is killed by her daughter. Judy O'Dea's screaming is a close second. Both were looped in and out of echo over and over again". A soundtrack album featuring music and dialogue cues from the film was compiled and released by Varèse Sarabande in 1982; however, it has never been reissued on CD. In November 2008, recording group 400 Lonely Things released the album Tonight of the Living Dead, "an instrumental album composed entirely of ambient music and sound effects sampled from Romero's 1968 horror classic". On 25 May 2010, the record company Zero Day Releasing released the CD They Won't Stay Dead!: Music from the soundtrack of Night of the Living Dead. It features all-new digitally restored audio from original library LPs and reels.
Night of the Living Dead premiered on October 1, 1968 at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh. Nationally, it was shown as a Saturday afternoon matinée — as was typical for horror films at the time — and attracted an audience consisting of pre-teens and adolescents. The MPAA film rating system was not in place until November 1968, so even young children were not prohibited from purchasing tickets. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," he said. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:
“ The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying... It's hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that's not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It's just over, that's all.”
Response from Variety after the initial release of the film shows the kind of outrage at Romero's film Until the Supreme Court establishes clear-cut guidelines for the pornography of Violence "Night of the Living Dead" will serve nicely as an outer-limit definition by example. In mere 90 minutes this horror film (pun intended) casts serious aspersions on the integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers, distributor Walter Reade, the film industry as a whole and [exhibitors] who book [the picture], as well as raising doubts about the future of the regional cinema movement and about the moral health of film goers who cheerfully opt for this unrelieved orgy of sadism..
One commentator asserts that the film garnered little attention from critics, "except to provoke argument about censoring its grisly scenes". Despite the controversy, five years after the premiere Paul McCullough of Take One observed that Night of the Living Dead was the "most profitable horror film ever [...] produced outside the walls of a major studio". The film had earned between $12 and $15 million at the American box office after a decade. It was translated into more than 25 languages and released across Europe, Canada and Australia. Night of the Living Dead grossed $30 million internationally, and the Wall Street Journal reported that it was the top grossing film in Europe in 1969.
More than 40 years after its release, the film enjoys a reputation as a classic and still receives positive reviews; Night of the Living Dead currently holds a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, and it is regarded by many as one of the best films of 1968. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. The New York Times also placed the film on their Best 1000 Movies Ever list. In January 2010, Total Film included the film on its list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. Rolling Stone magazine named Night of the Living Dead one of The 100 Maverick Movies in the Last 100 Years.
Night of the Living Dead was also awarded two distinguished honors decades after its debut. The Library of Congress added the film to the National Film Registry in 1999 with other films deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". In 2001, the film was ranked #93 by the American Film Institute on their 100 Years...100 Thrills list, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies. The zombies in the picture were also a candidate for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains, in the villains category, but failed to make the official list. The Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 5th scariest film ever made. The film also ranked #9 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Reviewers disliked the film's gory special effects. Variety labeled Night of the Living Dead an "unrelieved orgy of sadism" and questioned the "integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers". New York Times critic Vincent Canby referred to the film as a "junk movie" as well as "spare, uncluttered, but really silly."
Nevertheless, some reviewers cited the film as groundbreaking. Pauline Kael called the film "one of the most gruesomely terrifying movies ever made — and when you leave the theatre you may wish you could forget the whole horrible experience. . . . The film's grainy, banal seriousness works for it — gives it a crude realism". A Film Daily critic commented, "This is a pearl of a horror picture which exhibits all the earmarks of a sleeper." While Roger Ebert criticized the matinée screening, he admitted that he "admires the movie itself". Critic Rex Reed wrote, "If you want to see what turns a B movie into a classic [...] don't miss Night of the Living Dead. It is unthinkable for anyone seriously interested in horror movies not to see it."
Since the release, critics and film historians have seen Night of the Living Dead as a subversive film that critiques 1960s American society, international Cold War politics and domestic racism. Elliot Stein of The Village Voice saw the film as an ardent critique of American involvement in Vietnam, arguing that it "was not set in Transylvania, but Pennsylvania — this was Middle America at war, and the zombie carnage seemed a grotesque echo of the conflict then raging in Vietnam". Film historian Sumiko Higashi concurs, arguing that Night of the Living Dead was a horror film about the horrors of the Vietnam era. While she asserts that "there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead, [...] they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed". She points to aspects of the Vietnam War paralleled in the film: grainy black-and-white newsreels, search-and-destroy operations, helicopters, and graphic carnage.
While George Romero denies he hired Duane Jones simply because he was black, reviewer Mark Deming notes that "the grim fate of Duane Jones, the sole heroic figure and only African-American, had added resonance with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X fresh in the minds of most Americans." Stein adds, "In this first-ever subversive horror movie, the resourceful black hero survives the zombies only to be killed by a redneck posse". The deaths of Ben, Barbra and the supporting cast offered audiences an uncomfortable, nihilistic glimpse unusual for the genre.
Other prevalent themes included "disillusionment with government and patriarchal nuclear family" and "the flaws inherent in the media, local and federal government agencies, and the entire mechanism of civil defense". Film historian Linda Badley explains that the film was so horrifying because the monsters were not creatures from Outer Space or some exotic environment, "They're us". Romero confessed that the film was designed to reflect the tensions of the time: "It was 1968, man. Everybody had a 'message'. The anger and attitude and all that's there is just because it was the Sixties. We lived at the farmhouse, so we were always into raps about the implication and the meaning, so some of that crept in."
Romero revolutionized the horror film genre with Night of the Living Dead; per Almar Haflidason, of the BBC, the film represented "a new dawn in horror film-making". The film has also effectively redefined the use of the term "zombie". While the word "zombie" itself is never used, Romero's film introduced the theme of zombies as reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals. Early zombie films like Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932) and Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie (1943) concerned living people enslaved by a Voodoo witch doctor; many were set in the Caribbean.
The film and its successors spawned countless imitators that borrowed elements instituted by Romero: Tombs of the Blind Dead, Zombie, Hell of the Living Dead, Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps, Children of the Living Dead, and the video game series Resident Evil (later adapted as films in 2002, 2004, and 2007), Dead Rising, and House of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead is parodied in films such as Night of the Living Bread and Shaun of the Dead, and in episodes of The Simpsons ("Treehouse of Horror III", 1992; "Treehouse of Horror XIII", 2004 and "Treehouse of Horror XX", 2009), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park ("Pink Eye", 1997; "Night of the Living Homeless", 2007), Medium ("Bite Me", 2009) and Invader Zim ("Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom" 2001 and "FBI Warning of Doom" 2002).
Night of the Living Dead ushered in the splatter film sub-genre. As one film historian points out, horror prior to Romero's film had mostly involved rubber masks and costumes, cardboard sets, or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. They were set in locations far removed from rural and suburban America. Romero revealed the power behind exploitation and setting horror in ordinary, unexceptional locations and offered a template for making an "effective and lucrative" film on a "minuscule budget". Slasher films of the 1970s and 80s such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) "owe much to the original Night of the Living Dead", according to author Barry Keith Grant.
The first revisions of Night of the Living Dead involved colorization by home video distributors. Hal Roach Studios released a colorized version in 1986 that featured ghouls with pale green skin. Another colorized version appeared in 1997 from Anchor Bay Entertainment with grey-skinned zombies. In 2004, Legend Films produced a new colorized version. Technology critic Gary W. Tooze wrote that "The colorization is damn impressive", but noticed the print used was not as sharp as other releases of the film. In 2009, Legend Films coproduced a colorized 3-D version of the film with PassmoreLab, a company that converts 2-D film into 3-D format. This version will receive a full theatrical release in Europe, followed by a limited theatrical release in the United States According to Legend Films founder Barry Sandrew, Night of the Living Dead is the first entirely live action 2-D film to be converted to 3-D.
In 1999, co-writer John A. Russo released a modified version called Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition. He filmed additional scenes and recorded a revised soundtrack composed by Scott Vladimir Licina. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Russo explained that he wanted to "give the movie a more modern pace". Russo took liberties with the original script. The additions are neither clearly identified nor even listed. However, Entertainment Weekly reported "no bad blood" between Russo and Romero. The magazine, however, quoted Romero as saying, "I didn't want to touch Night of the Living Dead". Critics panned the revised film, notably Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News. Knowles promised to permanently ban anyone from his publication who offered positive criticism of the film. A sequel called Children of the Living Dead followed in 2001.
A collaborative animated project known as Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated is currently playing several film festivals and was released onto DVD on July 27, 2010 by Wild Eye Releasing. This project aims to "reanimate" the 1968 film by replacing Romero's celluloid images with animation done in a wide variety of styles by artists from around the world, laid over the original audio from Romero's version. Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated premiered theatrically on October 10, 2009 in Ramsey, New Jersey at the Zombie Encounter and Film Festival. NOTLDR was nominated in the category of Best Independent Production (film, documentary or short) for the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, but lost to American Scary, a documentary on television horror movie hosts.